During one of my first weeks at Princeton, Washington Post investigative reporter Kimbriell Kelly came to speak to my investigative journalism class. Before she visited, I remember feeling really nervous about the course — we were tasked with writing an investigative piece for our semester project, and I had no idea where to start. Kelly spoke about her reporting for a series of stories on unsolved homicides in communities of color. As she shared how she mined the data, interviewed parents who had lost their children, and went through the process of writing and editing, I felt inspired and determined to explore a meaningful topic. The shift in perspective that I experienced after Kelly’s visit testifies to the value guest speakers add to classes.
When I got to Princeton last fall, the piece of advice I heard most often was to take advantage of the amazing speakers who would come to campus. But nobody told me about the amazing people who would come to my classes. I’m not sure if mine is a unique experience, but throughout my first two semesters, many guest speakers have visited my classes, and I have learned a significant amount from them.
Princeton administrators and professors should take this into account when designing courses. The University should strongly encourage, and professors should make efforts towards, including at least one guest speaker per semester.
While some might argue that inviting guest speakers to class takes away from time to learn content, I would argue that their presence enriches the learning experience, as Kelly’s visit did for me. I could tell similar stories for speakers who have visited some of my other classes, such as formerly incarcerated individuals who came to my sociology class, or an immigration reporter who spoke to my journalism class this semester.
Guest speakers help explain how readings and other class assignments that may seem abstract apply to the real world. Their guidance allows students to become better critical thinkers, as we progress through the course. Speakers can also give students a sense of purpose and inspiration, which often otherwise disappears as we move through the semester. I have often felt a kind of rejuvenation or rekindling of interest in class material after listening to an engaging guest speaker.
Inviting guest speakers also forces professors to see how they can incorporate content that applies outside of the classroom. After all, the goal of classes is to teach students new material, not only so that they can use it to pass a test or write a paper, but also to enable students to internalize what they have learned and carry it outside of the classroom.
Because guest speakers can spark purpose and shift perspectives in students, Princeton should encourage professors to invite at least one guest speaker per semester.
Shannon Chaffers is a first-year from Wellesley, MA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.